For decades, street vendors provided food for their communities and law enforcement and health departments across the city of Los Angeles criminalized them for doing so. These vendors were disproportionately Black and Brown, often immigrants who provided food in low-income communities of color disproportionately harmed by food insecurity and food deserts. All of them operated in the informal economy, in a segregated system – upheld by outdated municipal codes and state retail food laws – that favored enforcement against and criminalization of street vendors.
With SB 946, the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, and SB 972, the California Retail Food Code Act, street vending has been decriminalized, and food codes have been modernized to include and welcome sidewalk food vendors into our economy. This complete one-eighty occurred because of community organizing done well. And yet, enforcement of these wins has been a challenge. Western Center recently joined as counsel in a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, challenging their unlawful and discriminatory “no vending zones.”
A successful organizer not only engages one person and mobilizes them to take action. They also create such investment in the work that they develop new leaders who become organizers themselves and grow and lead the movement. In short, a great organizer doesn’t just bring people in at critical moments of mobilization. They facilitate those individuals’ growth as leaders in the movement and support developing their existing strengths.
Ana Cruz Juarez and Miguel Lucas Tax are two such organizers. They actively work across Southern California, organizing street vendors from a non-profit organizing hub called the Community Power Collective (CPC).
CPC has organized one of the most exciting policy campaigns in recent years. The LA Street Vendor Campaign began decades ago and has expanded into a massive statewide network, known as the California Street Vendor Campaign, which has numerous partners up and down the state. This growth stems from CPC’s vision to have the most impacted lead their own battles. And their hiring of Ana and Miguel – two influential leaders in the street vending community – did just that.
Ana Cruz Juarez
When Ana Cruz Juarez began vending in Hollywood, other vendors shared their yearslong experience of harassment and inhumane treatment while working in the area.
“If you think about it, street vendors who were selling before SB 946 lived a completely different experience from those selling after,” Ana shared.
She was told that before vendors organized with the LA Street Vendor Campaign, many faced obstacles and feared harm from law enforcement. And with every story of harm, Ana began to visualize something bigger – an organizing program that not only spanned the city but was powerful enough to grow beyond the city’s boundaries.
“I started to align my emotions to the emotions of others; the obstacles of others were my obstacles. What is happening to me locally as a street vendor is happening citywide, statewide, and in other states like New York. Our struggle is not just here but everywhere,” Ana said.
Ana credits her successful organizing to understanding that movement leadership will continue to develop out of the meetings she is helping sidewalk vendors organize. She constantly uplifts other street vendors organizing and sees herself as a convener or facilitator of these spaces.
She shares that vendors who are learning to organize themselves go from being one-time activists who attend council meetings to organizers themselves “who are building power by recruiting and educating other vendors.”
Miguel Lucas Tax
Like Ana, Miguel Lucas Tax went from vending to organizing other vendors. He would set up in Exposition Park, where street vendors like him were often targeted for selling hot dogs to sports fans and museum goers. “Vendors were intimidated. They felt voiceless, and they felt unheard,” he shares.
Miguel was inspired by other street vendors he saw on YouTube defending themselves in street vending food hubs. Together with others, Miguel supported the early training of street vendors to use this tactic to stand their ground against harassment, intimidation, and unjust enforcement.
“We learned to stand together with each of us providing security from the police. We’d say, ‘Don’t run. Stand next to your comrade; defend each other.”
Local legal allies documented attacks on street vendors by the LAPD. This documentation would later form the basis for a lawsuit, leading to officer resignations.
“I learned that when we organize ourselves and unite, we can win,” Miguel said.
Organizing disrupts the power of the elite that sustains poverty and injustice. It seeks to live beyond a moment, a social media post or a spontaneous protest, and instead, aims to harnass that momentary energy to wage a planned and strategic campaign led by a collective or cadre who know the community. There is no “I” in organizing. Organizing calls on the “We” to lead. And at the heart of organizing is ordinary people. People directly impacted by the issue know they have power and can lead, if only they are given the space and time to grow as leaders of their community. They are the pulsing heart that drives movements. Without them, there is no hunger for change.
That is who Ana and Miguel are. They collectively analyze and decipher the hidden social, political, and economic power that impacts vendors locally and across the state. They plan direct actions and recruit new street vendors daily who have never been involved in the movement. For them, the only way forward is to organize, struggle and win.